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It’s hard to say which phase of his musical life Tony Bennett had reached when Amy Winehouse used one of his most famous songs in her debut album “Frank”. She valued the veteran New York socialite above all else. Before that, it was an affair of the heart for her to incorporate his trumpet arrangement from “The Best Is Yet to Come” into her own soulful sound cosmos.
Bennett was almost 80 years old at the time and was planning his own record with rock and pop vocal duets. Superstars like Paul McCartney, Elton John Bono and Sting were in demand. Of course they participated.
The singer, who was stationed as a GI in Germany in the last year of the war in 1945 and again in 1946, has released more than 70 albums and was able to show his talent on the microphone for the first time in the officers’ mess. His métier was easy listening, jazz and the standards of the Great American Songbooks.
Although he never belonged to the legendary Rat Pack around Frank Sinatra, the large halls of Radio City Music Hall in New York or the ballrooms of Las Vegas were also his territory. Like Sinatra, Bennett, born Benedetto, came from an Italian community and up until his first major hit, 1953’s I Left My Heart in San Francisco, Frankieboy hovered like a ghost over his early career. Bennett was not a songwriter, but interpreted endless classics with a sonorous voice.
The beat and surf era of the 1960s temporarily threw the hitherto scandal-free Bennett off track. Alcohol and drugs didn’t go with his image as a radiant man. His record deal with Columbia Records was not renewed. But he bounced back, survived the 1970s, and later, without changing his style significantly, turned to a younger audience. The Red Hot Chilli Peppers were among the first to invite him to the crossover as half admiring, half ironic. Bennett himself continued to record his classics, eventually ending up on MTV Unplugged in 1994. A nice step joke of pop culture, since Bennett has always played with his accompanying trio without electric guitars or wah-wah pedals for a good four decades.
His last major pop coup for the time being – at the age of 88 – was certainly the joint album with Lady Gaga, with whom he recorded all sorts of jazzy classics like “It Don’t Mean A Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)” in 2014. Now, after a last tour in 2021, he has died at the age of 96. Bennett suffered from dementia in recent years.
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